The S3 Academy is a hands-on, face-to-face learning and development program based in RTP for new hires in Sales, Support and Services, that, beginning in August 2018 will offer training in this field to university grad hires from all over the world. Part 1 gave readers a sense of the academy’s dynamic curriculum and results. Part 2 explores how the academy imparts transferable soft skills and inspires optimism, resilience and confidence in an exciting future at NetApp.


Ask any S3 Academy grad what the program has done for them and you may get an additional and equally passionate explanation of what people who graduate from S3 will do for the future of NetApp.


“We are now knowledgeable about the vast NetApp portfolio and can engage in great customer interactions, give excellent presentations and have valuable conversations with our peers,” says Sales Development Representative and Academy grad Justin Barkley. “The program has set the bar high for a very valuable future of new grad training here at NetApp, and I believe the company’s growth and success will reflect this program moving forward.”


As with the technical training explored in Part 1 of this series, the program also offered a variety of learning experiences that changed how S3 students will form relationships across and outside the company, achieve their career goals and simply enjoy their work more.

Building communication and collaboration

In addition to educating the students in NetApp’s product offerings, S3 is designed to develop soft skills like working with the strengths and weaknesses of others, teaming and respecting diversity of thought. Class seating was rotated each day, so every student would constantly have new teams to work with and would get to know everyone else, including those who might think in different ways than they do.


The Academy’s Connect Beyond Technical training sharpens essential skills for customer meetings.

“S3 prepared us for speaking with colleagues, managers, customers or anyone in the professional setting,” says Technical Support Engineer Theresa Teggi. “We had the opportunity to present to managers, learn about ourselves and our colleagues and how many different dynamics there are in the workplace. I think these soft skills are so important because at the end of the day, while I may never know all the of technology, with foundation and soft skills training I can still find passion and growth.”

Taking inspiration from leaders

NetApp leaders were invited to share their own passion about NetApp as well as different perspectives on where the company is headed. The program brought in guest speakers including EVP Worldwide Field and Customer Operations Henri Richard; SVP Americas Sales Thomas Stanley; Vice Chairman Tom Mendoza; SVP, Strategic Products and Global Accounts Dave Mason; and SVP, ONTAP Data Services Brendon Howe.


Sales Development Rep and S3 grad Jamarian Monroe with Thomas Stanley.

“The most valuable piece of advice I learned from the Executive Speaker Series was from Tom Mendoza, who said we need to ‘do something we’re proud of’,” says Caroline Eldridge. “Tom visited when we were about two weeks into the Academy, and that advice helped us new NetAppers spring into action. My resulting new attitude is what drives me; I work every day to make a positive impact on my team, and on our customers, that I can be proud of.”

“Growing Beyond”

S3 grads say they have come away from the program with a greater hunger for learning—and have absorbed the crucial lesson that, at NetApp, they are responsible for their own development. Their managers remark on this as well.


“While the first six months for a new NetApp Solutions Engineer have always involved a very steep learning curve, even for experienced SE’s coming from other storage and data management vendors, I continue to be impressed with the courage and initiative our S3 academy grads exhibit,” says Tim McCrain, Director Solutions Engineering. “They have stepped up and owned their development.  They have seized every opportunity to learn and grow beyond what has been prescribed to them and they have been maniacal in their pursuit to make valuable contributions.”

Building a permanent sense of community

A Volunteer Time Off (VTO) day at the Foodbank of Central and Eastern North Carolina and team building events like a scavenger hunt in downtown Raleigh presented opportunities for the students to engage in conversation outside of class—and developing what Chalk calls “organic communication.”


Volunteering at Durham County Foodbank.

“My favorite memory from the academy is the people; every day I was able to laugh, learn and grow with 29 others and it was truly like a family,” says Teggi. “While transition is scary, I found comfort in the people and the community at NetApp. I will always be grateful for the memories of learning but also those of the Durham Bulls game, VTO at the Durham Food Bank, and NetApp’s 25th Anniversary celebration.”


At the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.

The program commits to address every single question or issue a university grad hire may have—curriculum-related or not. Program grads mention S3 even helped them with many HR, payroll, new-hire and what one called “North Carolina living” questions during training—even advising students where they could take visiting parents for a nice dinner.

Classes to triple in size

In 2018, the S3 Academy will again welcome new hires for its second 90-day programs in Research Triangle Park. The classes will include 51 university grad hires from the Americas, China, Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Netherlands, Germany and the UK. The Academy plans to expand more in 2019.


A group of S3 students enjoys a post-training dinner at the Carolina Ale House.

As S3 continues to prep more university grad hires for their individual career liftoffs, Chalk will continue to tell each successive wave that graduation is just the beginning of their journey—and that they will travel some of that trajectory with the classmates they have met there.


“You’ve had 90 priceless days together but don’t lose the connection, don’t lose the community and most importantly, don’t lose each other,” she plans to say to each graduating class.  “Because you never know when you may need each other in your present or future roles.”

Betsey Flood

Betsey Flood’s specialties are strategies, programs and content that enhance company culture. An MBA with a wide-ranging background including consumer and business advertising and both executive and employee communications, she helps companies create and manage programs that boost employee understanding, engagement and sentiment. An author of hundreds of blogs and online articles about all things culture, she is currently working on recognition, philanthropy and communications projects with NetApp, Inc.